SAM BURNS was one of the great characters of British boxing in the middle decades of this century.
The son of Sid Burns, a top-class middleweight of the years that surrounded the First World War, Sam was born in Cannon Street on the edge of the City of London in 1914. Surrounded by sporting folk all his life, he once worked in the tape room of the old London Evening News and also wrote racing and boxing for the Sporting Life under the bylines 'Bendigo' and 'Straight Left'.
But it was as the right-hand man of Jack Solomons, perhaps the greatest British boxing prmoter in history, that Burns made his mark. Solomons, a former Billingsgate fishmonger, dominated the sport on his side of the Atlantic from offices at 41 Great Windmill Street, promoting the great open-air shows of the years which immediately followed the Second World War.
Burns was Solomons' general manager and between them, from adjoining offices, they set the standard for British boxing promotions. They staged the great battles of Boys' Own heroes like Freddie Mills, Bruce Woodcock and Randolph Turpin at venues like Harringay, White City and Earl's Court.
Burns eventually managed Terry Downes, the 'dashing, crashing, bashing' middleweight from Paddington who defeated the world champion, Paul Pender, in nine rounds at the old Wembley Pool in July 1961. By this time Burns and Solomons had parted and Burns did most of his business from the Sixties onwards with the promoters Jarvis Astaire, Mickey Duff, Harry Levene and Mike Barrett.
Downes lost the championship back to Pender in 1962, but stayed in partnership with Burns as joint owners of a chain of 90 betting shops which they eventually sold to William Hill in the early 1970s. Hills made Burns their managing director from 1972 until his retirement in 1981, but Burns stayed close to his boxing roots, managing men like the Finnegan brothers, Chris and Kevin, Tony Sibson and, in the twilight of his career, Chris Pyatt.
Burns took Chris Finnegan to a world light-heavyweight title fight against the American Bob Foster in 1972, which Foster won in the 14th round, and was in Sibson's corner when the Leicester middleweight lost to the undisputed world champion Marvin Hagler in a snow- bound Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1983.
Sibson found the atmosphere, his own self-doubt and Hagler's brilliance too much to cope with and he was beaten in six rounds. It was Burns's last significant moment in a career that stretched back over 40 years and soon afterwards, before their relationship faltered, Sibson paid tribute to his manager in an interview with Hugh McIlvanney in the Observer.
'I know I have failed Sam Burns in a lot of ways,' Sibson said. 'That man really loves me. When you have a manager like that, someone you know really cares for you, you've got something priceless in this game.'
Eventually they parted, when Sibson signed with a rival promoter, Frank Warren, but his earlier words remain as a tribute to a man who knew boxing, and understood boxers, as well as anybody in British ring history. Coincidentally, Burns died on the same day as Jack Solomons' younger brother Maxie, who also shared some of those great years. Maxie Solomons was 83.